In a major embarrassment to the ruling BJP, senior party leader Eknath Khadse on Wednesday claimed NCP chief Sharad Pawar's name was never mentioned in the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank corruption case when he was "following it up" as Leader of Opposition in the Assembly.
Mr Khadse's statement comes a day after the Enforcement Directorate (ED) registered a money laundering case against the NCP chief, his nephew Ajit Pawar and others which has triggered a firestorm in politics of poll-bound Maharashtra.
The claims of Mr Khadse, a disgruntled BJP veteran and former state minister, are likely to be lapped up by the NCP which has been alleging that the ED case was politically motivated with an eye on the next month's assembly elections.
Mr Khadse had served as the Leader of Opposition from November 2009 to October 2014 till the Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP government came to power that month.
"I had followed up the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank (MSCB) corruption case when I was the Leader of Opposition in the state Legislative Assembly. I have raised the voice several times but I can state that Sharad Pawar's name was nowhere in the entire case".
"I wonder how his name got involved in the case," he told reporters in his home district Jalgaon in north Maharashtra.
Mr Khadse, once believed to be the claimant to the post of chief minister, has been in political wilderness since corruption charges cropped up against him, forcing him to resign as state Revenue Minister in June 2016.
The ED filed the money laundering case against Sharad Pawar, his nephew Ajit Pawar and 70 others in the alleged Rs 25,000-crore MSB scam case on the directions of the Bombay High Court.
According to ED officials, the case is based on a Mumbai Police First Information Report (FIR) that had named the then directors of the bank, former deputy chief minister of the state Ajit Pawar and 70 former functionaries of the cooperative bank.
As per the police FIR, the state exchequer allegedly suffered losses to the tune of Rs 25,000 crore due to the MSCB scam between January 1, 2007 and December 31, 2017.
As the Opposition sought to add political connotations to the ED action, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis clarified in afternoon that the BJP government didn't believe in "revenge politics". He also pointed out that the ED is a Central agency which is not under the purview of the state government.
For his part, Mr Pawar has said the case might have been registered because his electoral rallies are generating "massive" response in the state.
The NCP chief also said he would "voluntarily" visit the ED office on September 27.